According to McKinsey, 28% of the average work week is spent reading and answering work emails. Based on a typical 40-hour schedule, that’s 11.2 hours per week, or 560 hours each year.

When you talk about email, you may be refering to Personal Information Management (PIM) that combine your email, data storage in folders, calendar and task management system. This is the case of solutions offered by Google email or Microsoft Outlook.

How to Calculate all possible Communication Channels? This doesn’t seem like a question that actually needs an entire blog for an answer. This can just be done by applying a simple formula n (n-1) /2, being n: number of stakeholders. So for an specific product / project / need from company with 100 stakeholders involved, it might have 4950 channels. If all those channels goes into email, this can create a huge problem for efficiency on reading time and loss of focus.

After 5 years of analysing my email habits, I can handle more than 200 email received per day but I struggle to send more than 40 emails daily with meaningful input. So I need to think really carefully about communication and priorize my work.

Purpose of this introduction is to think a step before the email productivy issue. Why do I receive so many emails? Is missing to set a general communication channel?

When thinking about channels, collaboration tools are available so we can remove need of email for specific groups collaboration. This is the case of Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or Slack. They offer a full repository of interesting tools for collaboration: plugins, channels, integrations with Version Control Repositories and Project Management tools.

Second concern is about email quality response karma. The more you respond with no clear targetting or not fitting email purpose, the more email you might receive. This is the case when an email is sent instead of creating a short meeting or having a chat with someone else.

Third concern is about flow, if there is no clear process defined for a specific workflow, by replying email, you will become the process. This is typical case of shortcuts for scalations, ticket resolution and others.

Once clarified about other tools outside your PIM, email message quality or flows, let's think on how to process your list of emails.

Email timing

Book a time frequently to go over your emails. Do not allow email processing to canibalize your time. It might be as frequent as once per day or once per hour, depending on your needs.

Email prioritisation

By prioritizing better,  you’ll be addressing your most important emails first and consequently dedicating more attention to them. This typically  means having to slog through all of the less critical messages or  (worse!) the junk email to figure out which messages are most important. So email screening is a task that needs to be perform regularly. To simplify this task there are different ways:

  • unsuscribe from unnecessary email – if you get unwanted or low importance email out of your inbox, it makes it easier to both prioritize and spend less time on email.
  • usage of automatic rules to archive, mark as read, move to folders in which you process information that is not adding any value to you at the moment: meeting request acceptance, room booking confirmation, or even apply colors or marks to group of emails depending on subject, sender, etc.

Once you have what needs to be read in front of you Eisenhower’s decision matrix, GTD, Inbox zero or other mechanisms will help you determine what is critical / urgent to reply and what not.

Risk on not managing an email with low impact on cost / delay can be accepted. If you have also your regular meeting system, one to one’s, follow up properly set, you could determine which is the forum to use, the person to talk to and the time to do it.

Also groups of email could be handled by a proposal / flow that is missing.

Influence

When replying, think about your capacity to influence and level of solution you are requested to act. Giving space for delegation and solution analysis is important.

Detail on what you need and when is important also, this will also avoid tons of emails.

Brevity is a gift for everyone. Go straight to reply question you have been asked or clarify what you expect from email chain.

Decide which stakeholders should be in and whether a distribution list is more suitable in some cases.

Sometimes, email are used as meeting / kickoffs replacement when this is not effective. Understanding in which step a flow is, and best practices to cover those stepts related to communication are crucial to avoid missalignment and need for more and more clarification.

Curiously the more time you provide for a topic to be analysed, the more unproductive the topic could become. Because of unecessary alternative exploration, unfocused approach.

Hope this article gives a bit more of perspective about communication. The way you manage your email, says a lot on type of professional you are.